Opening New Windows on God’s Love

June 1989By Elaine Hallett

Elaine Hallett, formerly an editor at Theatre Arts Books, lives in New York City and is co-author, with her hus­band, of two books on Renaissance drama, The Revenger’s Madness and Analyzing Shakespeare’s Action.

Knowing the Truth of God’s Love: The One Thing We Can’t Live Without.  By Peter Kreeft. Servant. 208 pages. $7.95.



God is Love. He loves each one of us, personally. He gives His love freely and offers it for eternity. He also gives us the ca­pacity to love Him — this is our purpose, our natural end. But He does not compel us to return His love. We are free to accept or re­ject it. Peter Kreeft puts this fact dramatically: God will entice us, but He “will never force us: Love does not rape.” However, God does require us to make a choice: “The one and only absolutely important choice every human being who has ever lived must make is the choice between say­ing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God’s love.” If you haven’t already said “yes” to God, or if your “yes” is ten­tative, this is the next book you should read. If your “yes” is hot and glowing, you might hand this primer to your favorite agnostic. But Kreeft’s book is for believers, too. It will be useful to anyone whose thoughts about God need some salutary structuring.

Kreeft accomplishes the daunting task of covering every conceivable aspect of the prodi­gious subject of God’s love in a minimum of space. He begins by stressing the importance of his subject. His second chapter em­phasizes the fact that gives the book its subtitle: God’s love is the one thing we can’t live with­out. This chapter, called “The Point of It All,” argues that the love of God is “the ultimate cause and reason, the meaning and ex­planation for everything else.” Having established the compell­ing nature of his subject, Kreeft begins to define this “Most Im­portant Thing” (chapter three), goes “Deeper into the Definition of Love” by analyzing St. Paul’s famous commentary on agape (chapter four), and only then moves into the Theology of Love (chapter five). Here, at the very center of the book, Kreeft de­scribes Love in its highest mani­festation, drawing the reader step by careful step into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The sixth chapter looks at the action of God’s love in history: “Scripture as Love Story.” Finally, in a long section that might have been call­ed Part Two, Kreeft explains how what he has told the reader about God’s love has applications for modern everyday life. These four concluding chapters review a multitude of theological, social, political, moral, and personal problems in the illuminating con­text of the truth of God’s love.

A perennial difficulty with a book of this type is that the truths being defended are age-old. The challenge to the author is not so much to say something new as to make us attend to truths we may be turning our backs on or to help us compre­hend already accepted truths at a more profound level. We know, or should know, that God loves us. How does Kreeft carry us be­yond the commonplace? How does he make us more awake to God’s loving generosity? Let me cite two examples.

First, Kreeft makes us think more precisely about our relation­ship to God by showing what we were before God loved us into existence. Compared to God, he points out, we are “dust motes in the sun.” The saints know this. “Saints say they are nothing…. Surely they are right; for our very existence is not ours, but sheer gift and loan.” This much we have heard. But Kreeft makes sure we grasp its full significance: “Think clearly and squarely for just one moment about the fact that you were created out of nothing. If a sculptor gives a block of marble the gift of a new shape, that shape is a gift, but the mar­ble’s existence is not. That is the marble’s own. But nothing is our own, because we were made out of nothing. Our very existence is a gift from God to no one, for we were not there to receive the gift before he created us. There is no receiver of the gift of exis­tence distinct from the gift itself. The gift is the receiver.” What are we? “We are God’s gifts.”

The second example pro­vides a sense of the immensity of God’s love for us — by making us feel, experientially, the capacity God gave us, as vessels, to con­tain his love. “Boredom is mod­ern man’s main fear,” Kreeft sug­gests. “No one can run with hope or passion toward a goal that seems boring. But everything here is eventually boring…. Sar­tre said, ‘There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, Is that all there is?’… God designed all fi­nite things to be eventually bor­ing.” Why? Because God “de­signed our heart with an infinite hole in its center, a hole that can­not be filled even with the whole enormous but finite universe. There is a black hole in our heart analogous to the physical black holes in intergalactic space that can suck all the matter in the universe down themselves. This spiritual black hole is the restless heart that will not and cannot rest anywhere except in God, its home.” The passage makes a compelling point, but long after the mind has grasped it, Kreeft’s cosmic image continues to reso­nate in one’s awareness, awaken­ing a sense of the vastness of the love that is available to us for the asking.

Throughout the book there are passages that stand out from the text and ask us to see some­thing old in a new way. Such mo­ments tempt me to wonder how the more committed Christian might respond to this book. If you are already reading de Lubac or von Balthasar or Barth, would this be a book for you? Kreeft’s book is “popular” by design, written for a general audience. At times, the devices employed to keep it light can be grating — its rapid pace, its fear of long blocks of solid text, its occasion­al low brow metaphors (at a too-important moment human love becomes “spiritual toothpaste”). But however modish the surface, the truths being explicated never seem diminished. Periodically, every committed believer has oc­casion to make a searching review of all he knows about Christian love. For such a review, this book offers a bonus: Kreeft’s vi­sion of the great truths is com­prehensive and deep and, beyond that, sufficiently unique to open new windows onto a vista one thought one had seen from all possible angles.



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